Simon Willard tall case clock with lunar calendar dial made in Roxbury, Mass. William Prescott, dial painter. 219114.

This handsome tall clock epitomizes the formal "Roxbury" form that were so popular in Boston during the late 18th century. These clocks were produced in the Boston borough of Roxbury. This region became well known for providing clock cases that possessed choice figured mahogany woods, pleasing proportions and high quality construction. This representative example was produced by the premiere Boston clockmaker Simon Willard. He was a highly prolific and innovative clockmaker and worked for a period that extended over sixty-five years. He was also responsible for training a fair number clockmakers that became famous in their own right. He built and sold clocks to some our country’s most famous citizens of the day.

This inlaid mahogany case exhibits excellent proportions and is decorated with line inlays. The case stands on four applied ogee bracket feet. These are applied to the double stepped base molding. The font base is decorated with inlays. A single line of light wood, most likely holey follows the shape of the base. The corners of this inlay pattern have been fitted with quarter fans. The fans are composed of five individual petals of wood. These petals are colored in an alternating pattern of light in dark. The waist section is long and narrow. It is fitted with a large tomb-stone shaped waist door. This door is trimmed with and applied molding. It is also decorated with a line inlay pattern. Brass stopped fluted quarter columns flank the sides of the case. These terminate in brass quarter capitals. The bonnet features an open fretwork design, thee fully fluted and capped finial plinths and three brass ball and spire finials. Fully turned and brass stop fluted bonnet columns or colonnettes visually support the upper bonnet molding. These are mounted in brass capitals and are free standing. The sides of the hood are fitted with side lights or windows. These are fitted with glass. The arched bonnet door is also line inlaid and is fitted with glass. This door opens to access the dial.

The painted iron dial is a locally made product. The back of the dial is signed by the Artist. His signature reads, "Willm Prescott No 12." This signature suggests that this is the twelve dial he painted. The highest number recorded to my knowledge is No. 30. William Prescott is an elusive fellow. It appears that he was in business with Daniel Munroe Junior in Concord, Mass in 1798. The partnership of Munroe and Prescott was dissolved on February 16, 1798. (Independent Chronicle. Boston, MA February 19, 1798. Paul Foley Source.) It appears he dies in Concord 5 years later. The front of the dial is signed by the Clockmaker, "S. Willard" in script lettering. The location of the signature is positioned just below the month calendar aperture. In the arch of this dial, one will find a moon phase mechanism or lunar calendar. The lunar calendar or moon phase mechanism is a mechanical almanac. This feature was most likely made on special order due to the extra work involved in producing it. This display would have been valuable to a number of occupations during the colonial era. Farmers were known to track the moon phase so they could anticipate the days that offered the most available moonlight. A bright night would be more beneficial to them in scheduling their tilling and harvesting of their fields. Sailors and merchants track the lunar phases in oder to know when the high tide would allow their ships to sail easily from port or when the fishing might be best. Numerous religious groups had an almost superstitious litany of rituals that were best performed in accordance with lunar events. The actual lunar month represents an inconvenient interval of 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 2.8 seconds. A tall clocks lunar calendar is set constant at 29.5 days which represents a full cycle. As a result, a 9 hour setback is required at the end of a single year in order to keep the lunar display current. The four spandrel areas are decorated with colorful floral patterns that are framed with gilt designs. This fine dial also displays the hours, minutes, seconds and calendar date in the traditional locations.

This fine movement is constructed in brass and is good quality. Four turned pillars support the two brass plates. Hardened steel shafts support the polished steel pinions and brass gearing. The winding drums are grooved. The escapement is designed as a recoil format. The movement is weight driven and designed to run eight days on a full wind. It is a two train or a time and strike design having a rack and snail striking system. As a result, it will strike each hour on the hour. This is done on a cast iron bell which is mounted above the movement.

This clock was made circa 1790 and stands approximately 8 feet 1 inches or 97 inches tall to the top of the center finial. Measured at the upper bonnet molding, the case approximately 20 inches wide and 10.5 inches deep.


About Simon Willard of Grafton and Roxbury, Massachusetts.

Simon Willard was born in Grafton, Massachusetts on April 3, 1753. It is in Grafton that Simon learned and began a successful career as a Clockmaker. On April 19, 1775 Simon answered the Lexington alarm along with his brothers. It is thought that by 1780 he moved from Grafton and took up residence in Roxbury. Simon was a Master Clockmaker as well as an Inventor. Some of his designs or inventions include “The Improved Timepiece” or Banjo clock, a roasting jack patent that rotated meat as it cooked in the fireplace, and an alarm clock patent. In addition, he trained many men to make clocks who intern became well known Clockmakers once their apprenticeships were served. Some of which include William Cummens, Elnathan Taber, and the brothers Levi and Able Hutchins. Some of the more notable public clocks Simon built include the clock that is in The United States Capital, the one located in the U. S. Senate, and the one located in the House of Representatives. As a result, his clock were searched out by many affluent New England citizens of his day. Simon died on August 30, 1848 at the age of 95.


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